As Ceres police officers are growing facial hair for the holiday season as part of the Ceres Police Beards for Kids Toy Drive, Walmart has kicked in $2,000 to help spread holiday cheer.
The Ceres store donated the money to take the families of four needy Ceres families on a $500 shopping spree with an officer escorting. But other families will benefit from the donation of cash, toys and wrapping paper.
The beard campaign goes until Dec. 23. This year officers who are growing beards were "fined" $20 apiece to go towards a gift-buying fund. A total of $460 was raised from the "fines."
Ceres police are partnering with the City of Ceres Recreation Division and Ceres Employee Activities Committee to collect donated unwrapped new toys for boys and girls aged from infants to 18. Toys may be dropped off at several locations, including the Ceres Police Department lobby, 2727 Third Street; the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth Street; or at Dollar General in the Richland Shopping Center.
Toys will be distributed on Dec. 20 by Santa Claus aboard the police SWAT vehicle and officers to families who've been identified by the city as needy by Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children.
"We're going to have some fun and give gifts out," said Ceres traffic Officer Jason Coley who started up the program last year. "We're just going to go out around town and look for kids who are underprivileged."
Last year the beard campaign collected Christmas toys for 46 underprivileged children living in 14 impoverished families. In 2013 there was so much gift giving to the Ceres Police Beards for Kids toy drive that there was enough toys for the 100 extra children living in the neighborhoods of the target families.
In 2013 Coley pitched the idea to Ceres police command staff on behalf of the patrol officers who encounter impoverished children every day. The goal, he said, was to "bring joy to these kids and families who might otherwise not have the opportunity to have a Merry Christmas."
Officers pledged to grow beards starting the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas as a way of drawing awareness to the plight of poor families in Ceres. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Annual Community Survey, approximately 21.1 percent of all Ceres households live at or below the poverty line.
The effort has been a positive move in what is typically negative public interaction with police officers said Coley.
Sgt. Rick Collins said talking to the needy families has "made us all realize how fortunate we really are."